Breaking Bad Leadership Habits


A while back my wife mentioned that we needed a new kitchen faucet.  The one we had was about 15 years old, leaked on occasion and wasnt very easy to operate.  Three kids can wear a faucet out pretty effectively.  When we went to look at them she really liked the new touch faucets that cut off and on with just a touch of your hand.  I bought one, brought it home and installed it and then the kids proceeded to play with it for hours.  Somehow it survived that early test and we have grown used to simply touching our faucet to turn it on.  In fact, I’ve gotten so used to it that I find myself touching faucets at work, in restrooms, and other places where it makes no sense and certainly does not operate the intended faucet.  My brain certainly knows the difference between my faucet at home, and a non-touch faucet somewhere else, but, my first instinct is to touch it and sometimes when it doesn’t turn on immediately I actually touch it again.

This is a ridiculously simple example that can play out in other habits and patterns we develop and that guide our behavior every day.  Our habits can even guide how we lead our teams, our businesses and of course ourselves.  How many times do managers that inherit or get moved to new teams lead them based on their own leadership habits rather than leading them based on what the team needs to be more successful?  How many times do leaders find themselves able to inspire or motivate some people on their team but not others?  This happens because typically any set of leadership habits will work for some people some of the time.  What one set of habits won’t do is let us lead diverse teams in different businesses or different market conditions or under stressful situations.  If you want to lead based on your decisions, not just your habits here are a few things to keep in mind.

Engage your conscious brain

The simple act of deciding can override the habit process that exists in our brain.  Take the time at the beginning of a year, a quarter, a month, a week or even a day to decide what this team needs from its leader and how we to lead so that everyone can reach more of their potential.  We may need to make these kinds of decisions for every individual on our team and on a very regular basis so that we are consistently leading the way we want to, not the way we have programmed ourselves in the past.

Use habit to your advantage

If you know that your conscious thought process needs to be in the mix to create better outcomes then build a habit that helps you to make that happen.  Maybe that means reflection time each morning or each week or a planning process at the end of the day for tomorrow’s opportunities.  Whatever you need, build it in, put it on the calendar and use it to help guide you to better results.

Create a feedback loop

When I tap a faucet and it doesn’t cut on I receive immediate feedback that this choice I’ve made won’t get me the results that I want.  Often, in the workplace, we never get that feedback or we get it too late and after a fair amount of damage has been done or opportunities have been missed.  Most leaders tell me that their team is open, honest, and candid with them about how they can lead better.  Most of them are also wrong.  Talking to their team uncovers a lot that has never been shared with the leader, some of it is critical for the leader to change their actions.  Leaders only get this information if they ask the right specific questions often enough.

We all develop habits and patterns in the way we work and the way we lead. They are necessary for us to lead a life that doesn’t require us to think about every task we execute. That would exhaust us. The downside of habits though is that they can allow us to accomplish far less than we are capable of as leaders if we don’t adjust them based on what others need from us. Leadership requires conscious effort, adapting our actions to meet the current needs, and being nimble in how we coach, inspire and motivate. Anything less and we have to hope this team or this business responds the way some previous one did. Tapping random faucets and hoping for water will not bring me very much success.

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